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Letters from Istanbul: Media, Turban and Ban
by Europe & Us
2008-02-13 09:50:18
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9h20. Phone’s calling. “Mr. Nonnenmacher? Hi, I’m Irem from the Turkish Daily News. I had to pick you up at your hotel. I’m sorry but i’ll be 10 to 15 minutes late. Trafic is horrible today”. Just time for a quick coffee break. Taking the elevators to the lobby. Sitting there, facing the street. Turning the computer on. Quick look at gmail. Then to the Six35’s yesterday edition. Some people look at me wondering: “God, who’s that guy with its Macbook, camera and digital handycam. Is that hotel not supposed to give place first to tourists?”

Phone’s ringing again. Irem’s there. Following her. Leaving the hotel. Crossing the street. Few meters further, on the left inside, the Otopark, a kind of very Turkish car park, settled in the middle of nowhere. Conversation really starts. About who Irem is, about her job. She recently joined the Turkish Daily News (TDN). A week ago. She’s a kind of project officer dedicated to new web plateform of the newspaper. She wants the TDN website to be more interactive, more «opened» to the readers. “You have a blog she says. What’s its name, already? Europeus?”. “Yes”. “I had a look at it.” I’m curious. How did she managed to watch it. For several weeks Europeus is no more accessible from Turkey. Reason of it: a wave of uninterrupted spams coming from that country. Philippe Pinault, the founder of the plateform said he had no other choice than taking that decision. “This should not time”. Well, you never know…

Coming back to Irem: “How did you get access to Europeus?" "Well, there are some ways to pass over a ban”. Very Turkish approach. I Remember a friend telling me few days ago she could never settle in a western country: “too many rules”, she said. You have some for everything. No cigarettes, no alcohol, no noise, no life…” This friend, is a sociologist and a kind of “bans’ hunter”. Using website like ktunnel.com to overpass any denied access. When, during the past days, the Turkish government cut access to youtube, ktunnel was perceived as a kind of “freedom tunnel”, here. Not many people know about this website. But for those who know about it, Ktunnel sounds like a real opportunity to escape a too much regulated world. No surprise then even less people know about it in Europe.

Almost half an hour, now, we’re on the highway. Istanbul looks like a never ending city. Officially 13 millions people are living there. Unofficially, almost 20 millions do so. Story says one builds houses in one night. “Story is right”, says Irem. Just time to put four walls. After, well, you pay attention to details. Water, electricity, phone, how it will look like inside. “Do the local authorities not saying anything about those illegal buildings?” “In theory they could. But, especially before an election, no politician says a word. Better, they legalize those houses.” Have you said clientelism…?

Clientelism. That is probably the word that suits best to AKP and ex Refah and Fazilet Partisi, the actual and past years muslim parties. Kind of, anyway. While traditional parties (DYP and Anap, especially) were forgetting their representatives had maybe been elected to bring some changes to the society, some “better being” to the people, the muslim party was on the ground, close to those same people, working, bringing water, electricity, shops to some parts of Istanbul. On the road to Tarabia for example. They did also the same in many other cities. For instance, in Konya, in Central Anatolia, any citizen could meet the mayor on mondays, asking him for a commercial visa, for interfering in a neighbourhood argue, etc, etc.. Those were little things but important ones for the people, who, with no surprise voted, from Refah to AKP, for the only political parties in the country working on their side.

europeus In Europe, especially in the French media, many wrote things such as “Turkey’s laïcity is down; radical islamism’s growing”, “voters prefer Allah to Europe”, etc.. The thing is maybe 20% only of muslim party’s electorate is having a deep religious background. Does it sounds then as a radical islamisation of Turkisk consciousness…? Hard to believe. But things change, as the “Turban affair” shows it. A big deal within the Turkish society. A meaningful change wanted by the AKP, and supported by the MHP, the far right nationalist party. What a curious alliance, by the way: AKP and MHP. “The thing is there are several months the MHP is taking votes from the AKP and that we’ll have soon elections…”, says Irem.

Until then, Turkish civil sphere is in a mess. Demonstrations and counter demonstrations are now part of the Turkish daily life. But the law will pass. Started to. A first step to real islamisation of the country for some, a new step toward civil rights for others. Mine Gokce, A Turkish writer and columnist for Vatan’s newspaper will tell me few hours letter the deal is not to allow or not the girls to wear the Turban at university. The deal is university was the last place making it difficult for Islam to rule the minds: “Girls knew that if they were wearing the Turban they could not follow courses there, then can’t be graduated and get no upper job. This helped not to see girls getting used to wear it since primary school. The change of the law, the rewriting of articles 10 and 42, will give an end to it. Wearing the Turban also means, for example, that as a woman doctor, you cannot have male patients. As a woman you cannot even shake a male’s hand. You have to understand this will deeply change Turkey. Let’s see: on some domestic flights of the Turkish Airlines, you now have specific seats for men and women. We also have some buses where both can’t seat anymore together. This is scaring.” Next step? “Well, you’ll see, in three years time, we’ll be an Islamic Republic”, Mine says. She really, deeply, hopes she’s wrong, but can’t imagine another end. “Maybe an economic crisis could help”, by weakening the AKP government. The army? “No way. They just can’t move. What could do 40.000 professional soldiers against 450.000 civilian doing their military service, coming from the low and middle classes and close from the AKP. Do you really thing they will shoot at members of their family?”. If the professional army moves, the people will turn the tanks toward them. This is too late.” About Europe, its understanding of Turkey? “Well, they know where they can put their reports…”, Mine ends. “This is over. Turkey in Europe is something over”.

Back to morning tales. Back to Irem’s car. End of the road. Big building. High Tower. Welcome to Hurriyet’s world, the group which TDN is part of. “60% of the Turkish medias are part of the group, Irem says. Just a little piece of the “Empire”: “Hurriyet is also the owner of some Romanian and some other estern European countries’medias. Well, impressive. In the lobby, long security control. Waiting. Still waiting. In the past five years most of the local medias have been attacked. No Turkish paranoia then. Just real life.

Leaving my passport at the reception. Getting to the elevator. 13th floor. Crossing the redaction’s room of the Turkish Daily News. At the end of it, behind a door, David D. Judson, the TDN American Editor-in-Chief is waiting for me. “Hi, Christophe. Nice to meet you. Just give me a minute. Please, have a seat”. Strange feeling. Feel like being back home. When writing for (real) European medias. When working as a journalist was still making sense. When redactions were not headed by marketing departments.

Christophe Nonnenmacher, is journalist, co-founder of Europeus.org

(Taken from

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